It was May of 2001 and all I wanted to do was climb ElCap.
I was so obsessed with Yosemite that I had eventually moved to Reno Nevada from Alaska. 4 hours to the valley and I just assumed I would be there every spare couple days I had. Do a wall every month!
The reality was of course something slightly different. Gas, fees, crappy jobs and life kept me from quite being there as much as I would have liked. Being a complete n00b who didn’t understand even basic aid technique kept me busy a couple years learning and banging my head on the big stone.
ElCap was all I had eyes for when I could squeeze in a week for the valley, which in reality was only a couple times a year if lucky. Lack of regular motivated partners didn’t help either. So I learned all the basics of wall climbing doing various pitches of various lines on el-cap and bailing my first 4 or 5 attempts. Although I’m not sure a couple of them even really count as attempts. First attempt was dragging a bag of gear 2 pitches up the free-blast with some guy I met in C4.
No, wait, actually the first attempt was getting invited to go up Lost in America with some local kid and his buddy. A-5?? Oh sure why not I figured? All I’d have to do was jug and clean right? I thought I knew how to do that. Hell I’d spent months in the big mountains of AK so I might be one of the few people whose first reaction to The Captain was , “wow here I am!! but I thought it would be bigger.”
I belayed the guy up the first pitch and proceeded to put my ascender setup on the rope and clean. I didn’t even know proper bigwall ascending technique. My setup was a single footloop system for crevasse rescue. Great for vertical or free-hanging but nasty for traverses and the convolutions of a rock wall. No problem right? I proceeded to clean everything… I do mean EVERYTHING.. stuff I’d never seen before weird rivets with cables on em, heads, you name it they came out if they could.
For some reason after that first pitch the kid didn’t seem too pleased. He and his buddy left the next day without me and almost took off with my rack too. I ended up letting them take some of my stuff. I learned a lot by observation and I did get back a totally ripped screemer when they got back. Pretty cool!
Sometimes it’s better to be a little more awed than I was starting out.
A couple years later and I’d actually dialed it in. But for various reasons had not quite made the top of an El-Cap Route. I’d come close on the Sheild. Ended up bailing from the triple cracks. Long story short, slipping adjustable daisies, heat and running out of water in the heat made reversing the shield from that high quicker than proceeding. Actually pretty cool but still another failure.
Getting ready to bail
At this point I was desperate, embarrassed and feeling pretty low. I knew I could get up El-Cap. So I planned my next trip meticulously. I would meet a friend in the valley a few days before my 30th birthday and we would do the triple direct. Easiest route on el-cap. We couldn’t fail!
I get to the valley, meet Pete at the meadow and he promptly tells me he can’t go up another wall right now because he is feeling pretty wasted from doing liberty cap. I am completely floored , so upset I’m in tears. I am desperate. I had felt in my bones that this was my time! I had to climb it. Desperate like Ahab or at least a politician. I was descending into a dark place.
What to do? What are the odds of finding a partner? At this point I’m willing to drag anyone with a pulse and a gri-gri up that damn rock or at least a gri-gri.
Somehow I meet a couple guys heading up the Salathe for their first wall and they mention they would be up for having a third who is good at aid. They felt they had the free climbing dialed and did not seem anything but psyched for things like the hollow flake. Cool! I then completely turn into an idiot and begin to tell them my resume… but not the real and fail version. An augmented truth version. Such that, sure, I’d climbed it before. Man was I desperate and feeling low with all those fails. To this day it’s embarrassing to admit. Really embarrassing. But thems the facts.
Their names were Ben and Chris but I do not remember their last names anymore. Really great guys and if anyone happens to recognize them after reading this TR I’d be glad if you’d post their names. They deserve credit.
So we made our plans, sorted gear, lugged bags and headed up.
The climbing went well and Chris sailed the Hollow flake. We had an interesting little snag when Ben rode the haul line above the pigs as I lowered it out. He always backed up his ascending with a gri-gri. Of course with the weight of the Bags on the rope that gri-gri was not budging. No biggy, left the device in place. A quick knot/gri-gri bypass and we moved along nicely.
The first real night on the wall was spent above hollow flake. We fixed a couple pitches above the ledge. I got my first lead in while fixing. Some nasty rope drag at the end of it though.
May 21 2001
The Salathe is nothing like the Sheild. It wanders through various big crack systems and many of the lower pitches are not clean straight lines through smooth wall. A bit funky. Not really my ideal but Ben and Chris were having a blast on the wide stuff and really kicking butt. The ear was my pitch to clea and man that thing is pretty bizzarre. I seriously about got my head stuck in that thing.. cleaning it is basically freeing it and all I could think was if I fell I'd just hang from my skull like a chockstone.
After getting pissed on by a party above us eventually I got to do a really sweet easy aid lead.
Ass shot with Ben and Chris planning revenge
That night we bivied on the greatest ledge on ElCap, The Spire! Ever since seeing Skinner and Piana's North Face posters it had seemed perhaps one of the coolest places on planet Earth. It does not disappoint!
We had a blast and fixed the next pitch before crashing out. Ben and Chris were fun guys, we bantered and joked.
Unfortunately I had to keep up my fake resume and it sucks. Lies lead to more lies and you never escape them if you don't have the balls to admit it. So here I am in the middle of a great trip with great partners and always I am feeling a bit lame. I'm climbing well and doing fine, a good team member but that darkness just nags at you.
May 22 2001
My day for a lot of leads
The pitch to the roof. C2 due to some trick placements in pin scars.
One of the nice things about doing a wall as a party of three is having someone to hang out with at belays. Three can go faster than 2 also because you can keep someone leading pretty much all the time.
Cris had amazing Tats!
The piss group above us on the Salathe Roof.
We camped at the roof the night before my 30th Birthday and fixed the pitch above.
May 23 2001
After several days we were ready to summit. Very ready and wanting to be off the wall. But wow! What a place to wake up on you 30th Birthday!
And here came the sweetest pitch on the Salathe Wall. I got the headwall. Long pitch since I linked all the way to Long Ledge. I simply cannot overstate how really cool this pitch is. Overhanging with a clear view nearly 3000 feet to the base. Easy C1 leapfrogging cams up a perfect crack. You find yourself 20 feet above your last placement pretty quickly. URP! But hey if a piece popped you'd just sail into air way out from the wall.
It does get C2ish at the alcove just before long ledge. Then a few really easy free moves traversing above that 3000 foot chasm till you pull up on a beautiful ledge. My leads were done.
Long Ledge looking down.
Ben and Chris blasted the rest. At this point I was feeling pretty wasted.
Ben about to head up after Chris leads the pitch above LL
Ben at the bottom of the last pitch.
Summitting ElCap finally was a great feeling. We were Ecstatic and Elated!!!
It really was a fantastic trip with two of the coolest partners one could ever ask for. Sadly I never talked to them again after this. Guilt from even the simplest of deception is a real burden. Deservedly so and self inflicted.
So I had finally attained my dream on a classic route up The Captain. I had been a fairly good partner and held up my boast. But tainted success is a stupid price to pay.
I hope you all enjoy this TR. I finally was able to scan some old photos.